Artists And Records Of The Year

David Bowie — Artist of the Year

It at first seemed like a difficult task to choose just one artist out of the scores of successful ones currently recording. But thinking back over the last year, it soon became apparent that one performer stood head, shoulders, faded jeans and eye shadow over all the rest. It is of course, David Bowie, the man who brought showbiz and glamour back to rock and roll.

Bowie’s major release this year was the brilliant The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. No other album has received such critical acclaim or enabled an artist to be rocketed with such speed to the pinnacle of his profession. Even Alice Cooper’s Mrs Mary Whitehouse upsetter School’s Out pales in comparison.

Ziggy Stardust is made up of a series of songs, and even if it isn’t a concept album as such, all the tracks are inter-related. Amongst the basic futuristic themes are apocalyptic visions of the world of tomorrow. These are told in part by Bowie as a narrator, and also by the mythical superstar ‘Ziggy Stardust’, who is Bowie himself. One of Bowie’s main attributes is his insight into what he is and what he is expected to be. And accordingly he plays the part of a superstar placed on a pedestal to the limit. Through this kind of awareness of image and of the medium he is working in, the lyrics, although extravagant, never sink to the level of just being pretentious or embarrassingly self-conscious.

Recently Bowie has had two of his previous albums re-released. They are Space Oddity (1968) and The Man Who Sold The World (1970). Both are important records, which were way ahead of their time when first issued. A new single by Bowie, The Jean Genie, has come out during the last couple of weeks. The title is, of course, a word play on Jean Genet, the French author, who is perhaps best known in this country for his novel Our Lady Of The Flowers. The lyrics are stranger than ever and their meaning is best left up to the individual listener to fathom out.

Apart from success in the recording field, Bowie has also been responsible for bringing entertainment back to rock concerts. For too long groups and solo artists have had trite, lack-lustre stage acts. But after a David Bowie concert, audiences will be reluctant to accept the mediocre, slipshod stage presentations of the past.

Bowie’s theatrical, uninhibited professionalism when giving a ‘live’ performance, has broken through many social barriers and taboos. And everywhere audiences have reacted enthusiastically to his assaults on accepted convention and narrow-minded morality. Mind you, he has brought out the worst forms of imbedded Puritanism from many rock journalists. But make no mistakes, if Bowie is limp-wristed then Muhammed Ali is queen of the fairies.

The terms Glam Rock and Gay Rock have been invented to try and categorise Bowie and the few other rock artists who have progressed beyond the rigid conformity that has governed the stage presentation of rock/pop groups in this country for quite some time. Even the puppet prancings of Mick Jagger look mechanical when compared to the high energy performances that Bowie gives.

Incidentally, Bowie is giving a concert at the Rainbow, Finsbury Park, on 24th December. I couldn’t recommend a better, more spectacular start to the Christmas holidays. I also expect David Bowie’s recordings and performances in 1973 to be a significantly influential to the modern music scene as they have been during the last year.

The World of David BowieDecca SPA 58
Space OddityRCA LSP 48133
The Man Who Sold The WorldRCA LSP 4816
Hunky DoryRCA SF 8244
Ziggy StardustRCA SF 8287
The Jean GenieRCA 2302


Roxy Music — Group of the Year

No other group has amassed such a strong following over the last year as Roxy Music. They have also caused a fair amount of controversy amongst rock purists, who have found it difficult to come to terms with the wild mixture of music and electronics the group deliver. But a hit single removed most of the sceptical criticism they initially received.

Their album, Roxy Music, is certainly one of the strangest to be released in 1972. The record defies all attempts at categorisation and its acceptance depends on the limitations of taste the listener may or may not have. Even if you find the album difficult to relate to at first, it is worth the effort of hearing it a number of times. If one analyses the Roxy’s sound, apart from the electronics and use of modern phasing techniques, the underlying inspiration seems to come from fifties

On stage, Roxy Music have seemingly been following the footsteps of David Bowie. Their stage presentation, physical appearance and clothes are extreme almost to excess but, like Bowie, they are into entertainment as much as they are into producing good and exciting music.

Despite the limited number of ‘live’ appearances by the group and the sparse air-play their album has received on the radio, the last few months have been extremely eventful for them. In 1973 I expect Roxy Music to reach both a far wider audience and receive even greater acceptance of their most original style.

Roxy MusicIsland ILPS 9200


Bill Withers — Soul Artist of the Year

Soul music isn’t just screams and wild dancing, as Bill Withers undeniably proves. Soul is the amount of depth and feeling an artist puts into a song, and Withers certainly doesn’t hold anything back.

His Still Bill album contains some of the most memorable and moving adult songs, about love and relationships, that I have heard this year, and is frequently to be found on my turntable.

Withers recent concert appearance in London showed that his talents aren’t just limited to a recording studio. As a member of the audience at that gig, I was impressed by the warm, responsive two-way relationship he created between the stage and the crowded auditorium, as he sang his sensitive rhythmic songs about matters which touch us all at some time or other.

Purists may prefer to stick to the wilder aspects of soul music, but Withers, with his Still Bill album especially, will make soul music many new friends and admirers. His previous release, Just As I Am, also contains some very good material, including the song which looks like becoming a soul classic, Ain’t No Sunshine. Through these two albums and his hit single Lean On Me, Bill Withers has firmly established himself as an outstanding new talent, who one can expect even greater things from, next year.

Just As I AmA&M AMLS 65002
Still BillA&M AMLS 68107


Seals & Crofts — Folk Artists of the Year

Whilst not working in the traditional areas of folk music, the American duo, Seals & Crofts are certainly the most pleasing contemporary folk artists performing and recording today.

At present their current release, Summer Breeze is highly placed in the American album charts, and this comes as no surprise. The record is filled with happy and sincere songs, that tell of love, life, a passing season and the things that all too quickly pass us by. There is also mention of the duo’s religious convictions, but without any undue pressure being placed on the listener to be converted to their particular beliefs.

James Seals and Dash Crofts with Summer Breeze deliver a series of often beautiful, relaxing and rewarding experiences for those who care to listen. This is an album I shall play for some time to come, besides eagerly awaiting their subsequent releases in 1973.

Summer BreezeWarner Bros, K46173.


Tamla Motown Album of the Year

There is no looking back for Diana Ross. After an extremely rewarding career with The Supremes, she has continued her success as a solo artist. And her Greatest Hits album shows why. Most of the songs are of the high standard one expects from Tamla Motown, whilst a few are bound to remain firm favourites for some time to come.

This compilation record of Diana’s contains all her hit singles, plus some of the best tracks from her past albums. The twelve cuts selected make for very good value, and the inclusion of the full six minute version of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough is an added bonus.

As I said earlier, one expects a high quality performance from Motown artists, and this album is a perfect example of how good records from them can be. You can rest assured that many fine sounds will be coming from the company and its stable of artists next year.

Diana Ross Greatest HitsTamla Motown STMA 8006


Taj Mahal — Blues Artist of the Year

One of the most important exponents of the blues alive today is Taj Mahal. Although still only a young man, his performances to date, whether in concert or on record, have been some of the most significant developments in this particular area of music.

Traditional country blues have always been the basis of Taj’s sound, but over the last few years he has impressively experimented with all aspects of his music. No two of his albums are alike, and the originality of his latest release. Recycling The Blues and Other Related Stuff, surpasses even the best of what he has issued before and makes me wonder what he is going to do next. The other album he has released this year, Happy Just To Be Like I Am, is a necessary addition to any serious collection of modern blues.

One thing I always love about Taj Mahal is his wonderful sense of humour, which he successfully instils into all his music.

Taj is a great blues artist, and hasn’t had to wait for recognition till he was either in his old age or dead, before people have become aware of his potential and significance.

Happy Just To Be Like I AmCBS 64447
Recycling the Blues & Other Related StuffCBS 65090


Reggae Record Of The Year

Reggae has had a long hard fight to gain mass acceptance in this country, but the soundtrack album from the Jamaican film The Harder They Come, may well prove to be the record that gains this music the wider audience it deserves.

The album is made up of tracks from various artists. Particularly of note is Jimmy Cliff, who sings four numbers, including the title track and a very beautiful song called Many Rivers To Cross. Other excellent contributions are made by lesser known reggae artists, such as Desmond Dekker and the Maytals.

If you have always thought of reggae as a rather limited musical form, give this album a listen. It’s a cert to change your mind, and will become an essential ingredient of any party you are holding or attending.

The Harder They ComeIsland ILPS 9202


Rock Album of the Year

To pick one rock record out of the hundreds issued during the last twelve months was nearly as difficult as picking out the most important and influential artist of the year.

But an album by a little known American guitarist is my choice. It is the first recorded outing of Roy Buchanan, who plays some of the cleanest, captivating guitar I’ve heard in a long time.

Whilst the backings are adequate and the singing bearable, it is the guitar playing that is always to the front. As it should be, for one doesn’t often have the chance of hearing such excellent rock musicianship. Roy Buchanan makes it all sound so simple too, but as any guitarist or passionate follower of rock music will tell you. some of the things he lets loose coma solely from years of playing and practising, and are only likely to be heard from the most proficient of artists. Of the incluences in Buchanan’s playing, apart from rock and roll, the most noticeable are country and blues.

As an introduction to this man’s work, I suggest you listen to Sweet Dreams which opens side one, and the mind-boggling The Messiah Will Come Again on side two. If these two tracks don’t immediately convert you, nothing will. So if you want to hear something a little different to the usual heavy rock sound being produced by the majority of bands, then make the effort to hear this album, you won’t be disappointed.

Roy BuchananPolydor 2391042


Laid Back Album of the Year

The term ‘laid back’ has come into use frequently during the last year. Basically it refers to a relaxed, unhurried musical style, but in no way means that the quality of the sounds is impaired.

A perfect example of this style is an album called Naturally by J. J. Cale. His music is a combination of blues, country and rock influences, whilst he delivers the vocals in a gravelly relaxed manner.

No single track stands out from the rest, but this does not mean that there are any duff tracks included. All make for worthwhile listening and the album comes into its own if heard late at night, when one is relaxed and doesn’t want anything too overpowering to cope with. Cale’s guitar playing is nothing less than stunning and one hangs onto every note of the never overlong breaks he allows himself. The After Midnight track on side two when released as a single in the States sold extremely well, and I recommend you to hear this cut as an introduction to the album.

Naturally is one hell of an album, by a musician/composer of the highest calibre. There will be more recorded delight? coming from him next year, when it is also planned for him to come over to this country for concert performances.

NaturallyA&M AMLS 68105


Colin Blunstone — Rising Talent of the Year.

In the early sixties Colin Blunstone was part of the now legendary group known as the Zombies. After a break from the music industry, Colin returned last year with an album called One Year which was favourably received by the pop press, but in no way shot him up the ladder to stardom, despite the success of a track that was taken from the album and released as a single.

Now his second album has been issued. It’s called Ennismore, and it is bound to take him a lot further than his previous solo effort. And with him starting to give ‘live’ performances around the country, it is just a matter of time before this very gifted singer/songwriter gets the recognition he deserves.

The songs on Ennismore are all concerned with relationships — the ones that worked and those that proved disastrous. There is a compelling directness in the lyrics that makes them easy to identify with. This results in shared experiences rather than just listening to those of someone else’s. The opening track, I Don’t Believe In Miracles, says far more about Blunstone’s work than I can, and as it is currently headed for the top of the singles charts, you can see and hear why I am so enthusiastic about this artist’s work for yourselves.

Ennismore will open up new horizons for Colin Blunstone, and the coming new year should establish him as one of this country’s leading singers and lyricists.

One YearEpic EPC 64557
EnnismoreEpic EPC 65278

GAYROCK

David Bowie, in concert at The Royal Festival Hall.

05-197208xx-6There comes a time when each of us has his turn to be right. But let me put that truism in perspective.

This year your reporter said this was going to be the year of “gay rock” And the year when David Bowie was going to happen.

He said it last year. And the year before. By now his ancients are used to dismissing these portentous statements by “Just because you fancy David Bowie” and that sort of thing.

This year Alice Cooper is getting friendly with snakes, the Kinks are living up to their name, the grounds of Elton John’s Honky Chateau have turned into a camp-site. And Elton and Rod Stewart camped around with John Baldry on Top of the Pops.

Most important, Bowie is back in the top twenty singles for the first time since Space Oddity (1969) and he’s well up in the album charts.

It’s good to be right. And that brings us to the event.

THE EVENT: Saturday July 8th Bowie played at London’s Royal Festival Hall in a benefit for the Friends of the Earth’s Save The Whale campaign fund.

Bowie and Mott the Hoople were going to be equally billed. But Mott insisted on doing their full two hour act, which, with Bowie, makes the thing too long, so Mott drop out.

That leaves the boy from Brixton at the top of the bill. And makes the concert something of a coming out for him. And of a gay event.

Two weeks before the concert you couldn’t get a seat in the RFH for deviant practices or money. Your reporter got in early with a couple of quid and there he was just a few yards out from the stage and enough amplification equipment to set up a small to medium sized radio station.

Kuddly Ken Everett is compere. Introduces Marmalade and the JSD Band, who replace Mott. It seems podgy Scots boys with glasses are in this week. They get a reasonable reception. But we’re waiting for the Star.

The crowd isn’t noticeably campy, even though the after shave lies slightly heavier on the air than at most concerts at the RFH.

Then Ken Ev (“I even went a bit gay” – Nova) in a fetching jumpsuit of blue denim with massive while buttons showing how he’d got in and how he meant to get out says he’s fought his way through the feather boas to the star’s dressing room.

“He insists on introducing himself in about four minutes time. So here is the second greatest thing, next to God . . . David Bowie.” says Kuddly Ken.

The speakers boom out the Moog martial version of the ‘Song of Joy’ from ‘A Clockwork Orange’.

The capacity plus crowd claps in time and in the dark as people sneak across the stage in the murk.

It ends. A single spot picks out a thin, almost drawn, jester. Red hair, white make-up and a skin tight red and green Persian carpet print space suit. All this on top of red lace up space boots.

“hello. I’m Ziggy Stardust and these are the Spiders from Mars.”

More lights and we have Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder, Mick Woodmansey.

A few seconds and we have the mind-fucking electric music of Bowie from the amps matched by the words that make Burroughs look like a slouch.

And on stage, Bowie rampant.

Until now, Bowie’s never been a star, but he’s studied some of the best, like Garbo, Presley, and now he’s on top he knows what to do.

Sometimes he plays guitar, sometimes just sings with his eerie thin voice, but sometimes that voice grows. Bowie is the understudy who’s been waiting in the wings for years. Finally his Big Day comes, and he’s got every step, every note, every voice-warble right. A star is born.

He’s a showman alright. Even the pubescent girls who’d spent their Saturday-morning-at-Woolies wages on a seat, or crowded into the gangways, screamed.

He says, “Tonight we have a surprise for you”. And everyone knows what it is. Lou Reed. The NME and the other pop papers carried that secret during the week in inch-and-a-half caps.

“Tonight we’re going to do a number by the Cream – Free.” Anti-climax swamps the hall.

But the Bowie voice is haunting in the few lines of words at the beginning of the number. Then he leaves it to the spiders to get on with it. They do – talented musicians that they are. Strobe lights on the gantry over them slow then into a far from silent movie, one frame at a time.

Then our David’s back. Now he’s in white satin space suit that leaves only how he managed to get into it to the imagination.

Garbo on Mars

And, off-hand, he says: “If you’ve seen us before, you’ll know we do some numbers by the Velvet Underground. And tonight we have, for the first on any stage in England, Lou Reed.”

And the Velvets’ former leading light bounds on in black to match Bowie’s white.

We get a set of Velvets numbers. David plays to Lou.

Lou plays to Mick. Mick plays to David.

While they’re having fun on stage there’s enough electricity generated in the RFH to keep the national grid pulsing high voltage goodies all over the land.

They end, and the front several hundred of the 3,000-plus crowd mobs the stage. Time for the expected encore.

Ziggy and the spiders reappear and do ‘Suffragette City’, orange handouts with their pictures on, explode from the stage.

In this hour-and-a-bit Bowie has passed from wild electric rock to simple ballads, such as ‘Space Oddity’ and a Jacques Brel poem, ’The Port of Amsterdam’ and back to wild electric rock.

His words span concepts from science-fiction and the coming of a superrace to sexual liberation.

And that’s what a lot came to hear, your reporter supposes. For Bowie is the totem of gay-rock. Lou Reed a “bisexual chauvinist pig.’

But more important is the little girls who came to scream at Bowie’s “bump” — as the groupy girls say – get turned on to sexual liberation.

And we all had a bloody good time.

David Bowie is probably the best rock musician in Britain now. One day he’ll become as popular as he deserves to be. And that’ll give gay-rock a very potent spokesman.

After the event:

Reporters in state of shock, deafened. So easily put off making prearranged backstage tryst with the Bowie circus by unfriendly lady from Friends Of the Earth, who’s busy being seen with the Stars.

“Thank you so much, Kenny, it was wonderful” Kisses the ducking Ev. Lady from F O E is another reason for mysogeny.

So back to the records.

  • Brief discography of albums:
  • ‘Love You Till Tuesday’ (Deram. deleted) but much of the material is on the low – price ‘World Of David Bowie’ (Decca).
  • ‘David Bowie’ (Philips, deleted).
  • ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ (Mercury deleted) ‘One Stop. Dean Street. W.1 has some U.S. import copies of this., Bowie’s most powerful album, at £2.99.
  • ‘Hunky Dory’ (RCA)
  • ‘The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (RCA) his latest is equally best. Treat yourself. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’ (Side two, last track) is a wow.

Superstar Sings Superstar

02-197206XX 9The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” – David Bowie – R.C.A.

After all the blurb about a “new superstar” and bringing back “glamour into rock-and-roll” I was prepared for the worst. Not so. This album manages to be intelligent and fairly entertaining at the same time. It seems that Bowie himself is aware of the perils of superstardom and also aware that it could happen to him, for the songs fall into a story-pattern about a rock-and-roll star who comes, godlike, from outer space becoming the focus of hope in a world with only five years of existence left.

The first couple of tracks ache with desperation and defeat, but in answer to them “all I have is my love of love – and love is not loving”. The madness is close to the surface, breaks through now and again. And when Ziggy arrives he is a sensation, confident. beautiful but he becomes so wrapped up in being a star, in being so egotistical, that in the end he is destroyed and the band (which by this time has become Ziggy’s band) is broken up.

So that’s the story. Very roughly. But it had me wondering as to what it was getting at At times it might almost be an attack on the Bolan phenomenon, at times it sounds like Bolan. At times it is superstar rock, at times a Bonzo-like send up of itself. The cynical key lies in the track “Star”, in which Bowie is clearly singing of himself – “Tony went to right in Belfast . . . Bevan tried to change the nation . . . I could make a transformation as a rock and roll star . . . I could do with the money.” Trying to convince himself he could do something by being a star, but knowing that it’s really only a massive ego-trip, and lucrative too. But he knows, because Ziggy becomes arrogant too, and dies.

Some of the album is a bit uninventive, but some of it aches with feeling, especially the first and last tracks (“Five Years” and “Rock-and-Roll Suicide”). Some of it is great fun, whatever it means, and “Suffragette City” really bangs along well. As a whole I don’t think the album comes off, but nice try, and it’s good to know you’ve got some idea what you’re doing David, even if you can’t do much about it.